Identifying and Managing Gluten Allergy: Symptoms & Treatments

Wyndly Care Team
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What are the first signs of being gluten intolerant?

The first signs of gluten intolerance often include gastrointestinal issues like bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Other symptoms may include headaches, fatigue, skin problems, depression, and unexplained weight loss. These symptoms can appear after consuming food products containing gluten.

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What Is a Gluten Allergy?

A gluten allergy, also referred to as gluten intolerance, is an immune response to the ingestion of gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. This condition can manifest as celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or wheat allergy.

Gluten Allergy vs. Gluten Intolerance vs. Celiac vs. Wheat Allergy

While these terms are often used interchangeably, they refer to different conditions. Gluten intolerance is a broad term for any reaction to gluten, often accompanied by digestive discomfort. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten damages the small intestine. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity, like gluten intolerance, involves symptomatic reactions to gluten without the autoimmune response seen in celiac disease. Lastly, wheat allergy is an allergic response to wheat specifically, of which gluten is a component. Each of these conditions varies in its severity and treatment, underscoring the importance of accurate diagnosis.

What Causes Gluten Intolerance?

Gluten intolerance is primarily caused by an adverse reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. This reaction can occur due to genetic factors or other triggers, leading to the immune system mistaking gluten for a harmful substance and launching an immune response.

The exact cause of gluten intolerance isn't fully understood, but it's believed to involve a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors. Some research suggests that disturbances in the gut microbiota or infections could trigger the onset of gluten intolerance in genetically predisposed individuals.

If you suspect you have gluten intolerance, it's crucial to get a proper diagnosis. Misdiagnosis can lead to unnecessary dietary restrictions or overlook a more serious condition. A healthcare provider or an allergist can diagnose gluten intolerance using a combination of medical history, physical examination, and specific tests such as blood tests or a skin allergy test. If you are unsure about your symptoms, taking an easy allergy quiz might help you identify potential allergens.

What Are the Symptoms of Gluten Allergies?

Gluten allergies present a range of symptoms depending on the specific condition: Celiac Disease, Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, or Wheat Allergy. Recognizing these symptoms is the first step towards seeking appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where gluten intake leads to damage in the small intestine. Symptoms include diarrhea, bloating, gas, fatigue, weight loss, iron-deficiency anemia, constipation, and depression. In children, it may lead to growth problems and failure to thrive.

Symptoms of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) can cause symptoms similar to Celiac disease but without the intestinal damage. Symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, "foggy mind," rash, and headaches.

Symptoms of Wheat Allergy

Wheat allergy involves a specific allergic response to wheat proteins. Symptoms can range from mild (hives, itching, swelling of mouth and throat, diarrhea) to severe (anaphylaxis). A wheat allergy can manifest similarly to other allergies like pet allergies, seasonal allergies, or allergic asthma. It's essential to get a professional diagnosis to manage your symptoms effectively.

How to Diagnose Gluten Sensitivity?

Diagnosing gluten sensitivity requires a thorough evaluation of patient history, symptoms, and often, specific diagnostic tests. It's essential to consult with a healthcare provider or an allergist for accurate diagnosis and guidance.

A preliminary diagnosis of gluten sensitivity often starts with a review of dietary habits and symptoms. If gluten sensitivity is suspected, your healthcare provider may recommend a Gluten Challenge. This involves reintroducing gluten to your diet for a certain period and monitoring for any adverse reactions.

In some cases, additional testing may be required. For Celiac disease, blood tests are typically performed to check for specific antibodies. A small intestine biopsy may also be performed in some cases. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity is usually diagnosed when both tests for Celiac disease and wheat allergy are negative, but the individual still experiences symptoms upon gluten consumption.

For a Wheat Allergy diagnosis, skin prick tests or blood tests can be used. These tests measure the immune system's response to wheat proteins. Understanding how to read your allergy skin test results can be helpful in this case. Keep in mind that symptoms of a wheat allergy can be similar to other allergies, such as pollen or cat allergies, making a professional diagnosis essential.

What Are the Treatments for Gluten Allergies?

The primary treatment for gluten allergies is a gluten-free diet. It involves avoiding food with wheat, barley, and rye. Specific treatments, however, may vary depending on the type of gluten sensitivity.

Management and Treatment of Gluten Allergies

A strict gluten-free diet is the cornerstone of managing gluten allergies. This requires careful reading of food labels as gluten can be hidden in various food products. In addition to dietary changes, over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines can help manage minor symptoms, much like how they are used in treating symptoms of a cold or allergies.

For Celiac disease, a lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet is essential to prevent damage to the lining of the intestines. For wheat allergy, besides avoiding wheat, medications may be prescribed to control the immune response.

Sublingual Immunotherapy

Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is a treatment option for certain types of allergies, including wheat allergy. It involves placing a tablet containing a small amount of the allergen under the tongue to help the body build tolerance. However, it's important to note that SLIT is currently not a treatment option for Celiac disease or non-Celiac gluten sensitivity.

How to Prevent Gluten Allergy?

Preventing gluten allergy primarily involves avoiding gluten in your diet. This may not prevent the development of conditions like Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, but it can prevent the symptoms associated with these conditions.

Implementing a gluten-free diet can be challenging, as gluten is found in many common foods like pastas, cereals, and bread. Reading food labels carefully is crucial to ensure you are not inadvertently consuming gluten.

Additionally, consider consulting a dietitian or nutritionist who can guide you in creating a balanced, gluten-free diet, which can ensure you are getting all the necessary nutrients. It's also worth discussing with your healthcare provider about any potential need for vitamin and mineral supplementation.

How to Live with Gluten Intolerance?

Living with gluten intolerance requires mindful eating and lifestyle modifications. The most effective way is to maintain a strict gluten-free diet, avoiding all foods and drinks that contain gluten.

Educate yourself about gluten-free foods and check food labels diligently when shopping. Gluten can be hidden in many processed foods, so it's important to know what to look for.

A balanced diet is crucial. With the removal of many grain products, ensure to replace them with gluten-free grains like rice or quinoa, and increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. Regular medical check-ups are also advised to monitor your overall health.

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If you want long-term relief from your allergies, Wyndly can help. Our doctors will help you identify your allergy triggers and create a personalized treatment plan to get you the lifelong relief you deserve. Start by taking our quick online allergy assessment today!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you check for a gluten allergy?

Testing for a gluten allergy, also known as celiac disease, involves a two-step process. First, a blood test is performed to detect certain antibodies. If the blood test shows elevated antibodies, a gastroenterologist will perform an endoscopy to confirm the diagnosis of celiac disease.

What can be mistaken for gluten intolerance?

Several conditions can mimic gluten intolerance, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), lactose intolerance, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and fructose malabsorption. Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten, may also be mistaken for gluten intolerance due to similar symptoms.

How can you test yourself for gluten intolerance?

Self-testing for gluten intolerance isn't recommended due to the complexity of diagnosis. To accurately diagnose gluten intolerance or celiac disease, a healthcare provider must conduct specific blood tests. If results are positive, an intestinal biopsy may be needed for a definitive diagnosis.

Can you suddenly become gluten intolerant?

Yes, you can suddenly become gluten intolerant. The onset of gluten intolerance, also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, can occur at any age and can be triggered by factors such as stress, surgery, or a viral infection. Symptoms include bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

How do you know if a medication contains gluten?

To determine if a medication contains gluten, consult with the pharmacist or contact the drug manufacturer directly. Gluten isn't a required label element on medication packaging. Therefore, direct communication with professionals or companies involved in drug production is the most reliable way to confirm gluten content.

Is there a medication for gluten allergy?

Currently, there isn't a medication specifically designed to treat gluten allergy, also known as Celiac disease. The primary treatment is a strict gluten-free diet, which can alleviate symptoms and promote intestinal healing. However, over-the-counter or prescribed medications may help manage symptom flare-ups.

What are 6 symptoms of a person with a gluten allergy?

A person with a gluten allergy, also known as celiac disease, may experience symptoms such as digestive issues (bloating, diarrhea, constipation), unexplained weight loss, anemia, fatigue, bone or joint pain, and skin rash. These symptoms can vary widely among individuals.

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